The Taste of Tomorrow
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  • December30th

    You’ll find more fennel paired peri-peri sauce, more caramelized honey paried with adzuki red beans, and green peppercorn served with goat’s milk.

    Yep, gird yourself for a wave of green peppercorn and goat’s milk.

    That’s according to the 2011 Flavor Forecast – from McCormick.

    As readers of The Taste of Tomorrow  will find out, a chunk in the book focused on the Food Future Punditocracy – that is, the Jimmy the Greeks of the food world, people who specialize in divining what we’ll be eating, how we’ll be eating, where and when we’ll be eating.

    By far, the happiest time of the year for connoisseurs of Food Futurania is the holiday season.  In addition to holiday parties, and Lexus commercials, it’s the season for Top 10 Food Trends of the year lists. It’s also the time for scads of recap lists and best-of lists and years-in-review lists.

    The Girl Scouts “locavore badge,” the rise of food trucks, the artisan cheese movement in Japan – those are among the highlights from the Foodspring 20, the NASFT, producer of the Fancy Food show, annual recap.  Meanwhile, Phil “The Supermarket Guru” Lempert’s lists Vlasic Sodium Reduced Pickles and Totino’s Pizza Stuffers as two “of the biggest misses” on his 2011 list.  Now, some of the food trend list predictions/recaps will strike average humanoids as perfectly ridiculous – as a writer for Chowhound snarkily (but fairly observed), will we really be eating grilled cheese-infused vodka in 2010?  And will we really be eating green peppercorn with goat’s milk?

    I’ll keep you apprised of  notable food prognostications  (either due to possible prescience or extreme ridiculousness) that come my way…
    Meantime, here is an excellent Chowhound interview on the food trend-list cottage industry. The trend expert here happens to be Kara Nielsen, my favorite food prognosticator who also happens she’s also the key person in the book.

  • December20th

    Sean Cutler – UC-Riverside scientist behind supercharged mustard plant.

    Unless you’re a Rick Perry-liking creationist, anti-scientist type, or someone on a decades long information Sabbath who ignores data from climatologists and demographers,  you probably accept that Earth is getting hotter, that population is increasing, that water resources are dwindling.  And you’re probably on board with the idea that it would be a really wonderful thing if humans could grow lettuce and cucumbers and apples and raspberries in arid environments, without tapping some aquifer or siphoning off drinking water from people in LA or Phoenix.

    Well, great news: earlier this month, a team of scientists at UC-Riverside announced a major breakthrough that could ultimately lead process to engineer drought-tolerant crops.

    The researchers, led by plant scientist Sean Cutler, identified a means to regulate the stress- relieving hormones that enable plants to weather droughts.  Specifically, they’ve learned how to activate and deactivate what are known as abscisic acid receptors, which control how plants respond to their surroundings. Cutler’s lab has found ways to make receptors open and close on command by altering plant genes. They tested hundreds of variants to figure out which alterations cause these receptors to behave optimally in periods of drought. The result: they’ve developed a mustard-type plant, called Arabidopsis, with a heightened ability to survive under harsh conditions.

    While the release of drought-resistant lettuces and tomatoes is probably still years off, the potential upside of Cutler’s drought-resistant Arabidopsis  is game-changing.   In a world with diminishing water resources, a drought-resistant crop could be a huge boon to water conservation efforts. A recent New York Times piece, for instance, spotlighted the water challenges for organic farmers in Mexico.   If the goal is sustainability, why not consider a drought-resistant, pesticide-free GMO crop?)

    Equally important, a drought-resistant GMO plants could potentially create more opportunities– land previously deemed unfit for certain crops could become viable. (There’s a fascinating piece, fyi, in the most recent New Yorker that focuses on effort to stop desertification in Africa)

    Cutler’s work is not unknown in the plant science world.  Work leading to the supercharged mustard plant was one of Science magazine breakthroughs of the year in 2009.  For more scientific detail on Cutler’s work to engineer drought resistance crops, you can check out the Dec. 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Of his breakthrough, Cutler told one researcher. “I would like to see farmers bragging about how little water their plants can get by on.”

    Here’s an interview with Cutler.

  • December8th

    We have some really great news from Wisconsin (ancestral home of the TofT author) – and it has nothing to do with the Packers, the Badgers,  or the effort to recall governor Scott Walker.

    The first anaerobic dry fermentation biodigester in the United States is up and running at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

    Now, the three words dry fermentation biodigester might not immediately electrify most Americans.  But the upside is revolutionary, Holy Graily.

    According to a post in one of our favorite blogs, Seedstock, the alternative power system has been producing clean, renewable electricity from plant and food waste to supply electricity and heat for the university campus since Oct. 3. The site reported that UW-O staff and students had been stockpiling agricultural plant and food waste as feedstock in airless chambers and feeding it into the dry anaerobic biodigester since last summer in anticipation of bringing it online.

    A steady, source of clean renewable electricity would be a tremendous breakthrough for the type of clean, environmentally-friendly indoor fish farming that is profiled in The Taste of Tomorrow, the book.

    A short description of the science as culled from Seedstock:

    Anaerobic digestion consists of a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic digestion reduces the emission of methane gas, CO2, and “non-methane organic compounds” or NMOCs into the atmosphere.  Anaerobic digestion is also used as a renewable energy source as the process produces a methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas suitable for energy production. As the name indicates, ‘dry,’ as opposed to ‘wet,’ anaerobic digesters break down dry organic materials with moisture content of less than 75%, such as agricultural waste and plant material traditionally left over after harvesting a crop.

    For a fuller description of the work at Oshkosh, please check out the post on Seedstock’s site and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh report.

    Folks at Oshkosh expect the anaerobic digester to generate enough electricity in the start-up phase alone to meet 5% of the university’s electricity and heating needs. This is great news: as it demonstrates that clean, renewable energy can be produced from throwaways like corn stalks, husks, leaves, and discarded food.  According to the University, a second anaerobic digester is being planned for a dairy farm, and generate electricity from the methane produced by the decomposition of dairy cow poop.

     

  • December3rd

    It’s been mild up here at The Taste of Tomorrow’s home office —cool, rainy, temps hovering in the 40s and 50s, barely a dusting of snow.    Still, even with the balmy fall, I was STUNNED to get an update from my favorite micro-farmer in early December announcing that he STILL had greens.

    Now, Henry Brockman, an organic farmer in Congerville, Illinois, who makes my favorite mesclun mix — and has the greatest collection of heirloom lettuces and Asian greens I have ever encountered –  does not have an indoor hydroponics growing operation.  He has an unheated hoop house on his farm, and he was surprised that some leafy greens had survived this late in the season.

    Needless to say, it was quite a thrill to go to a farmers market on  December 3rd – in the Chicago-area — and load up on freshly-picked green-anything.  But the reason I’m writing this is because Henry was also offering chickweed.

    Chickweed — Not for Chickens

    Not a lot of people know about the pleasures of chickweed (scientific name: Stellaria media) aka Starweed aka Winterweed.  Henry Brockman describes its taste as “like mache.”  Many others say it tastes like corn silk (if you’ve ever tried that!).  Personally, the words that come to my mind when I’m eating naked, uncooked chickweed: earthy, clean, pleasant, mild, slightly mache-y.

    I love raw chickweed as part of most any salad – try it with butter lettuce and arugula, use it to add a new note to your mesclun mix.  Sauteed, it’s a great stand-in for spinach. It’s widely praised as a pesto, and one forager sited introduce me to the wonders of the BCT – that’s bacon, chickweed, and tomato sandwich. Two reasons to go with a BCT over a BLT — taste, the earthy, machey chickweed pairs nicely bacon & lettuce (similar, but just different enough to keep you happy) Second: health.   Chickweed is loaded with vitamins — A, D, B-complex, calcium, magnesium, niacin.

    Some bad news:  don’t expect to find chickweed at Whole Foods anytime soon.  Or even at a good farmer’s market. It’s still pretty much a forager’s thing.  But good news:  it’s virtually everywhere.  Check out your lawn next spring.  Or if you don’t have a lawn, go to a park.  (And this applies to our readers in northern Sweden and southern Patagonia – it’s everywhere) Check out the Wildman’s post on chickweed, or Green Deane’s Eat the Weeds notes on chickweed for more on distribution, spotting, etc.  In brief, chickweed is a pretty good intro-to-foraging choice, because of its ubiquity and distinctive feature: a single of hairs running up the stem leaves that changes at each juncture of leaves.

    ALSO, fyi, two final things:  chickweed is called chickweed, because chickens apparently dig it.  And second, here’s a short, highly informative Green Deane instructional video on chickweed foraging.